They had spent a very long day in a caravan of cars touring businesses from Oshkosh to Green Bay, talking to dozens of people about how they innovate — but their energy was palpable.
Gazing out over the Fox River from the patio at Mr. Brews Taphouse in Appleton, the group from the Rise of the Rest tour and the planning group from Launch Wisconsin sipped beer and talked about the cool initiatives they discovered that day.
Launch Wisconsin President and Executive Director John Ernst ticked off the list of places they had stopped: Menasha Corp. and Sunset Hill Stoneware in Neenah, Breakthrough Fuel, The Cannery Public Market and Lambeau Field in Green Bay as well as The Grind Cowork Space in Oshkosh.
“I am so energized!” said Anna Mason, director of investments for Rise of the Rest, a program of the investment firm Revolution LLC, run by AOL co-founder Steve Case.
“There’s a human electricity that gets created when you bring people together and they’re discovering the unexpected,” Mason added. “It is truly a personal joy and why I wanted to do this job. I get to see different parts of the country through the lens of not only entrepreneurs, but also optimists. And I think nothing’s better. I had a great day. I’m psyched!”
Mason, along with Steve Case and others from Rise of the Rest, will be back in Green Bay for Launch Wisconsin on the first day of the two-day event, Oct. 17. Titletown will be the last of a five-day whirlwind tour they’ll have taken in five cities in the Midwest, visiting fast-growing startup businesses and innovators. The highlight of each visit, including Green Bay, will be a startup pitch competition featuring eight companies vying for a prize of $100,000 in seed money from Revolution LLC. (For more on Launch Wisconsin, see page 20.)
In a phone interview in advance of the event, Steve Case told me the Rise of the Rest tour is all about shining the spotlight on up-and-coming businesses in middle America that have the potential to grow quickly — and offer opportunities for investors nationwide. After all, he said, not all the action is happening on the coasts.
“This is an issue I’m passionate about,” Case said. “We’ve got to level the playing field so that everybody in this country feels like they have a shot at the American dream. We need to create more opportunity, more jobs in more places, and have a more evenly dispersed innovation economy — and also, a more inclusive innovation economy.”
Excellent opportunities to invest exist here because valuations tend to be lower than on the coasts, he added.
“From an investment standpoint, there’s an opportunity to generate compelling returns while also helping these entrepreneurs and these cities.”
What Case said echoes remarks from Fast Company co-founder and author Bill Taylor, whom I talked to last month in advance of the Manufacturing First Expo & Conference, coming to the KI Convention Center in Green Bay Oct. 25-26.
Taylor will deliver the keynote, “How great organizations do extraordinary things,” on the second day of the conference, hosted by First Business Bank with co-sponsors the NEW Manufacturing Alliance and Insight Publications. Look for our special section on Manufacturing First starting on page 22.
With all the emphasis on fast-growing companies doing extraordinary things, we obviously need to do whatever it takes to attract talent to the New North region.
To that end, the Green Bay Packers organization recently completed the first phase of its Titletown District. Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy says attracting and keeping great people (including NFL players!) here is an important reason they kicked off the project in the first place.
Check out our cover story on page 26 to find out more. Go Packers!